Macarons

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Macarons are definitely not a forgiving recipe if you want to get them exactly right.  However, even if the tops crack or the sides don’t develop the characteristic foot or the cookies taste grainy, they’re still very tasty.  Just think of them as delicious almond sandwich cookies!

 

Baking notes:

  • Make sure your almond flour is finely ground, or your macarons will taste grainy (the Walmart almond flour/meal I used was too coarse even after being pressed through a sieve).  I’ve seen Bob’s Red Mill almond flour recommended by other bloggers.
  • Separate your eggs a few days before you plan to bake the macarons and let the whites age in the fridge.
  • Don’t over-beat the egg whites, or the texture will turn grainy.
  • When heating the sugar syrup, keep a close eye on it near the end because the temperature will rise quickly.
  • Don’t use liquid food coloring, because adding enough to achieve a bright color will thin out the batter too much.
  • If the tops of your first batch of macarons crack, the oven temperature is too high.  Lower it a little before you bake your next batch.

 

Macarons
From Dorie Greenspan’s Dorie’s Cookies

Yield: 45 macarons

For cookies:

  • 2 cups (200 grams) almond flour (make sure it’s finely ground)
  • 1 2/3 cups (200 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2/3 cup aged egg whites (150 milliliters), at room temperature (about 5 large eggs)
  • Gel or powder food coloring (optional)
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) water

For filling (makes about 1 cup):

  • 8 oz full-fat cream cheese, cut into chunks, at room temperature
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (60 g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted if you have the patience (it’s fine if you don’t)
  • 2 tablespoons thick preserves or jam (without chunky fruit)

 

  1. Take out 2 baking sheets.  If you plan to line them with parchment paper, it’s best to make a template.  Using a cookie cutter as your guide, trace circles about 1 1/2 inches in diameter on each sheet of paper, leaving about 2 inches between them, then flip the papers over on the baking sheets so pencil marks face down.  If you’re using silicone mats, just line the baking sheets with them.
  2. Fit a large pastry bag with a plain 1/2-inch tip. (Alternatively, you can use a zipper-lock bag: Fill the bag, seal it, and snip off a corner.)
  3. Have a candy thermometer handy.
  4. Place a strainer over a large bowl and press almond flour and confectioners’ sugar through it.  Don’t skip this step, even though it’s annoying, because it’s necessary to get the correct texture.
  5. Whisk to blend almond flour and confectioners’ sugar.
  6. Put half of the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
  7. Add food coloring, if you’re using it, to remaining egg whites, stir, and then pour them over the almond flour and confectioners’ sugar.
  8. Using a flexible spatula, mix and mash the whites into the dry ingredients until you have a homogeneous paste.
  9. Bring the granulated sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat.  If there are spatters on the sides of the pan, wash them down with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.
  10. Attach candy thermometer and cook syrup until it reaches 243-245°F.  This can take about 10 minutes.  Keep a close eye on it because the temperature increases rapidly near the end.
  11. Meanwhile, beat egg whites on medium speed until they hold medium-firm, glossy peaks.
  12. Reduce the mixer speed to low and keep mixing until sugar syrup comes up to temperature.
  13. When the sugar syrup is ready, take the pan off the heat and remove the thermometer.  With the mixer on low speed, pour in the hot syrup, trying to pour it between the whirring whisk and the side of the bowl.  You’ll definitely have spatters, but don’t try to incorporate them because they’ll spoil the smooth meringue.
  14. Increase mixer speed to high and beat until meringue cools to room temperature, about 10 minutes.  Check by touching the bottom of the bowl.  (However, it’s better to have your meringue be a little too warm than to over-beat it.)
  15. Give the almond flour mixture another stir with the spatula, then scrape the meringue over it and fold everything together.  Don’t be gentle here: Use your spatula to cut through the meringue and almond flour mixture, bring some of the batter from the bottom up over the top, and then press it against the sides of the bowl.  The action is the same as the one you used to get the egg whites into the almonds and sugar: Mix and mash.
  16. Keep folding and mixing and mashing until when you lift the spatula, the batter flows off it in a thick band.
  17. If you want to add more food coloring, do it now.
  18. Spoon half of the batter into the pastry bag (or all of it into a gallon zipper-lock bag) and, holding the bag straight up, 1 inch above one of the baking sheets, pipe out 1 1/2-inch rounds.  Don’t worry if you have a point in the center of each round; it will dissolve into the batter.
  19. Grab baking sheet with both hands, raise it about 8 inches above the counter, and let it fall with a satisfying bang.  This gets the bubbles out of the batter and helps smooth the tops.
  20. Refill the bag if necessary, pipe batter onto the second sheet, and drop it onto the counter.
  21. Set baking sheets aside in a cool, dry place to allow cookies to form a crust. When you can lightly touch the top of the macarons without having batter stick to your finger, you’re ready to bake.  (Depending on room temperature and humidity, this can take 15 to 30 minutes, sometimes more.)
  22. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350° F.
  23. Bake macarons, one sheet at a time, for 6 minutes.
  24. Rotate pan and bake for another 6-9 minutes, or until the macarons can be lifted from the mat or can be carefully peeled away from the paper.  The bottoms will feel just a little soft.  The tops will feel disconcertingly crisp and dry.
  25. Slide silicone mat or parchment off the baking sheet onto a counter and cool macarons to room temperature.
  26. Repeat with the second baking sheet.
  27. While macarons cool, make the filling.  Either in the clean bowl of your stand mixer or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth and creamy.
  28. Add confectioners’ sugar and beat until it is incorporated and filling is smooth.
  29. Mix in preserves or jam.  (The filling will keep for up to 5 days tightly covered in the refrigerator.  Stir before using to bring it back to its creamy consistency.)
  30. When macarons are cool, peel them off the silicone or parchment and match them up for sandwiching.
  31. Work on a baking sheet lined with fresh parchment paper, or on a sheet of parchment paper on which you baked macarons.  You can use a teaspoon or a piping bag to fill the macarons; it’s up to you to decide how much filling you’ll want to use.  Spoon or pipe some filling onto the flat side of a macaron and sandwich it with its mate, gently twisting the top macaron to spread filling to the edges.  Piping leads to cleaner edges.
  32. Place sandwiched macaron on parchment paper and repeat with remaining macarons and filling.  Cover with plastic film or pack them into a container.  Be careful not to squish the tops.
  33. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving.  While chilling, moisture from the filling will soften the macaron cookies and allow them to develop their characteristic texture.
  34. Macarons can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days.  They can also be frozen, packed airtight, for up to 2 months; defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.
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Burmese-Inspired Chinese New Year Cake (Nian Gao)

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Recently I had a dessert called schweji at a Burmese restaurant.  This is a small cake made with cream of wheat or semolina flour that has raisins and a topping of poppy seeds.  Since today is Chinese New Year, I adapted a family nian gao recipe to make a gluten-free, schweji-inspired cake.

Baking note:

  • The schweji is coconut flavored, but the flavor of sticky rice is so strong that it will completely overwhelm coconut milk.  So you might as well use regular milk here.

 

Burmese-Inspired Chinese New Year Cake (Nian Gao)
Adapted from a family recipe

Yield: 9″x9″ cake

  • 1 lb sticky rice flour (I like to use a Thai brand, Erawan)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter (or margarine), softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup raisins
  • poppy seeds for topping

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease a 9″x 9″ baking pan.
  2. Beat the butter until creamy, then beat in the other ingredients.  The batter will be runny, and it’s fine if there are little pieces of butter floating in it.
  3. Scatter raisins evenly across bottom of baking pan.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  5. Sprinkle top with poppy seeds and bake for 50-60 min until the top is golden brown.  When done, the cake will be sort of jiggly and (what else?) sticky.

Flourless Oatmeal Drops

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These are nice, simple oatmeal cookies that have a chewy texture.  They’re even flourless to begin with, so no modifications are necessary!

Baking notes:

  • Definitely use parchment paper to line the baking sheets.  I tried aluminum foil and greased it, but the cookies still stuck pretty aggressively.
  • The original recipe says you’ll get 2 dozen cookies, but following the recommended cookie size of about a tablespoon, I got about 4 dozen cookies.

 

Flourless Oatmeal Drops
Adapted from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

  • 1/3 cup (2 3/4 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 7/8 cup (7 oz) brown sugar OR 7/8 cup white sugar+dollop molasses
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg OR allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves OR allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar OR cider vinegar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups (8 3/4 oz) rolled oats (old fashioned OR quick cooking)

 

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a medium-sized bowl with a hand mixer, on medium speed, beat together butter, sugar, molasses if using, salt, spices, baking powder, vanilla, and vinegar until light and fluffy.
  2. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.  (It’s fine if you forget and add the eggs at the same time.)
  3. Stir in oats.  The mixture will feel very loose.
  4. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  5. Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  The bottoms of the cookies are extremely sticky.
  6. Remove dough from refrigerator and drop it by the tablespoonful onto baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart.
  7. Moisten your fingers and flatten cookies to 1/4 inch thick.  It’s easiest to keep a small bowl of water beside you for this part.
  8. Bake cookies for 10 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned.  Rotate the baking sheets halfway through and rotate them front to back.  The cookies won’t look completely done in the center when you take them out.
  9. Remove cookies from oven and let rest on baking sheets for 5 minutes.
  10. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Pudding

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This chocolate pudding is smooth and silky.  If desired, serve with homemade whipped cream.

Original recipe

 

Chocolate Pudding
From Betty Crocker

Yield: 7 servings

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch processed baking cocoa
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

 

  1. In 2-quart saucepan, mix sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt with whisk.
  2. Gradually stir in milk.
  3. Cook over medium heat 8-10 minutes, stirring constantly, until pudding boils and is thickened.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook 2 minutes longer.
  5. Remove from heat; gently stir in butter and vanilla until butter is melted.
  6. Pour into large bowl; cover surface directly with plastic wrap to prevent skin from forming.
  7. Cool 10 minutes.
  8. Serve warm, or refrigerate until serving time.